breathe

Breathe

My shoulders are hunched and tight, my forehead scrunched with worry. The precious moments of my life wasted with each short, gasping breath I take. My mind occupied with the mistakes from yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Where am I going with my life? Maybe I shouldn’t be so stubborn with my Mom. Am I being a pushover at work? We’re going to run out of oil by 2030. What will I do if I get cancer? China will overtake the US economy by 2020. I should’ve bought that stock earlier. Is my cholesterol ok? What if I fall down these stairs, break my spine, and then live out the rest of my life regretting—

Take a deep breath in. There is nothing really wrong right now. Breathe out. I am alive, I exist, I am lucky and grateful.

I haven’t found an effective way to interrupt my stream of concerns. Regular Google calendar and Apple reminders haven’t helped me. Instead, I need a random reminder to open my eyes a little wider, relax my forehead, and take a deep doctor’s-office-checkup breath.

For those like me, deeply concerned about everything, I would like you to consider adding one more interruption into your life. I’ve partnered with talented people to work on a vision, towards which we are taking our first tentative steps. It’s an iOS App that interrupts your life to remind you to Breathe. We’re including an Apple Watch App so that you don’t have to glance at your iPhone during meetings.

The value I get from this app is 10 random moments from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM to take one deep breath, regardless of what I’m working on, which meeting I’m in, or who I’m talking to. When I can, I try to set aside the weight of my responsibilities, and spend 10 seconds to relax my body and mind. I’m sure it’s good for me, we can collect all the statistics and do the research later and I can tell you about it.

Breathe is basically a polished beta app, so there aren’t very many bells and whistles. And maybe that’s how it should remain. I’d like to know what you think of it, please download and try it out for a few days. Then come back here and comment on what you think, and any benefits you get from the app.

Let’s start a conversation.

Breathe iOS App

heart-balloons-in-islamabad

Secular Muslim

Growing up as a Muslim in America placed me in ethical and socially contradictory environments from a very impressionable age. Straddling the gaps between two cultures resulted with my mind becoming a bending, twisty path between contradictory morals, questionable behavior, and unorthodox beliefs.

So for the past few years I’ve been having to untwist some knots and untangle some beliefs. Sometimes I’d like to take a hot iron to it and smooth out the wrinkles, flatten myself out into a nice crisp set of beliefs with perfect edges that fold just right into my head.

This is the first month of Ramadan that I’ve gone in a while where I haven’t taken a “day(s) off.” I’ve been a good Muslim and have kept my fasts and even woke up at 4 AM to eat Seheri. (No 5 times, or 4 times, or even 1 time daily prayer though).
So it’s not like I’ve come back to the religion. I don’t think I’ve ever left, but who knows, most would consider me as a non-muslim because I barely practice any of it anymore. But I tell myself that I try to live it instead.

I have some unorthodox beliefs about faith, spirituality, and what being a Muslim is about. A lot of it is contradictory to either side of the argument (whatever argument it is, it doesn’t matter). And if these beliefs were to be scrutinized with logic too much, the belief will begin to not make much sense.

But I believe them, they’re my little believies, as Louis CK once put it. And one of those beliefs is that the first Muslims were unorthodox in mind and action. They were questioners of the system by which they’ve lived their entire lives. They were idealistic but were led by a great man who knew how to guide that force.

I also believe that a Muslim is someone who strives for discipline in their behavior and the choices they make. To take the extra time to think and hold off action. To try and learn and not give up even if they don’t get it right the first few (hundred) times.

To the core, I still consider myself as a Muslim because I am always trying to achieve grace. I believe that grace is the underlying theme within the message that our Prophet brought. Grace in form of mercy and of gracefulness, a soft kind touch when possible.

So far I’ve untwisted some of the knots and straightened out the lines of thought into a few of these basic principles (of my own) of being a Muslim. I do not pray 5 times a day but I try and practice discipline in my craft and my hobbies. I don’t socialize at the mosque much, but I try to be gracious and grateful for the conversations I have and the people I’m with..

And I create trouble in the meantime by questioning everything, wondering if there really is a God up there. What if all this stuff I’m going through means nothing?

broken-mirror1

Glowing scars

“Please ask questions. Most likely if you have a question, then someone else does too.”

I’ve heard this plenty of times in an environment where someone is explaining something to a group of people. And it’s never helped ease my fears. I don’t feel any more comfortable speaking my mind, especially in front of a group of people. The fear of asking a stupid question that makes everyone laugh and think “what a retard” still persists.

Great artists realize quickly that to touch the hearts of your audience, you must become a mirror for the rage and pain, triumphs and glory that you experience deep within. These strong emotions are broiling in the stomachs of every person, yet on the outside they have to act (literally) like nothing is wrong.

That help-wishful phrase about others having the same questions might not actually be helpful in the situation that most people hear it. But otherwise it’s a very powerful statement. It means that despite what you are feeling, a lot of other people feel the same way you do. And the deeper you go into yourself and pull all those disgusting bits out of you, the more people feel connected to you.

Anyone can become a mirror for someone else, a powerful mirror that changes and moves people. A mirror that shines brightly the flaws in character that frees others from shame in their own scars. The people who have shone the brightest in human history are those who have somehow embraced their flaws, and through learning from them, masterfully transformed those flaws into their greatest triumphs. And then these people dedicate their lives to bringing the same transformation to others in their lives.

So if you have a question, a yearning question deep inside you that you haven’t asked anyone because you’re afraid, afraid that no one else will understand, no one else has asked. Then don’t worry, ask it. Ask it of yourself first, and then find the answer to it. Because chances are, not only have others not even asked the question, very few have come to an answer.

And then, if you want, you can become a shining mirror to others by sharing your question. You can lead them to find the answer for themselves and transform themselves and their lives. You yourself can become a powerful transformative figure that will etch your signature into the book of human history. All because you had the courage the ask the question.

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Playing a losing chess game

When I play chess, as soon as I hit some internal threshold where I feel like I’m sure to lose the game, I want to (and usually do) quit.

Now how does that translate to the rest of my life I wonder?

Today I won a game even though I was a bishop, a knight, and a pawn down within the first 20 moves. Granted if I was playing against a Grand Master, It’d probably have been a waste of both our times for me to continue playing.

But maybe the Grand Master wouldn’t think so, and that’s part of being a Grand Master.

Yet this time I swallowed hard and didn’t quit. Mainly because my opponent doesn’t quit either no matter how down he is. Eventually I was able to make solid moves until my opponent made mistakes while I kept increasing my advantages.

Before long I was only  down one pawn, but that didn’t matter because I had a discovered check that would allow me to capture his queen.

The game was over, I had won.

When re-analyzing the game, we found that I was allowed to continue forking or skewering his queen on different variations of those last few moves. It was because he made the fatal mistake of moving the king out of his protected pawn structure.

So far in my life I’ve worked to overcome my fear of pursuing goals that might seem unattainable. But I keep becoming hindered because I quit the first time things begin turning sour, when the curve of progress stops going up.

If I had to venture a guess as to the nature of success, I bet that it includes several dips on the road, no matter the pursuit. And yah, I’ve learned to start taking the first step and beginning the journey. But I haven’t been so good at finishing it.

Dealing with back and knee pains

While growing up I had weight issues and to counteract the weight issues I’d go to the gym and and add more weights haphazardly to my skeleton to get rid of the pounds.

Needless to say, I ended up with chronic back, shoulder, and knee pains. I’ve gotten rid of the knee and back pains. The shoulder pains are a different story and I’ll let you know how that works out when I figure it out.

But for now, I’m sure some of you are interested in how I got rid of my back and knee pains. I first tried chiropractors, there was a clinic that somehow worked with my insurance to cover treatment for a few months. No real results.

Then I got massage therapy. Immediate results, and the painful weekly treatments resolved a lot of the more chronic nature of my back and knee problems. But they soon came back. And I went back to massage therapy, and it went away.. then came back.

So what was going on? Over time I realized that the massage therapy healed the muscle damage, time healed the ligament damage. But my constant posture and incorrect movements was unraveling the healing quickly.

Heeling the Knee

While taking some classes in proper weight lifting techniques, I realized just how important the heel is when applying any force. I began to see that when I tried to come up from squats while pushing down from the front part of my foot, it increased the pain in my knees. So I began to meticulously analyze how I walked, how I stood up from a chair, and how I climbed the stairs.

I began to shift the force of my weight from the front parts of my feet towards the back. Within a few months, my knee pain disappeared. Now I am able to squat down and even place the majority of my weight on either legs without any knee problem. Miraculous? No.. apparently it’s just physics.

Stand up straight soldier

Same goes for my back pain. Growing up I would stoop a lot. This stooping would cause my big head, and my big heart, to pull down on my lower back, hips, and thighs. By the time I was in my late teens, I could not sleep at night because of the back pain. Again I went to massage therapy and it helped, but again it would keep coming back.

So you can guess the fix, I lifted my head up high and walked a little taller and over some time, no more back pains. Now I can touch my toes.

Again, it’s no miracle

It should be obvious to you that not only did I fix my postures, but I’ve also kept exercising and stretching, eating healthier, keeping my weight down. All of these are important factors too. But I know personally how difficult it is to do any of these.. let alone all of those at once.

It requires a change of lifestyle, but it doesn’t have to be radical. What I’d suggest for you, if you’re a fat suffering person like I was, is to at least start by walking a little taller and placing your feet more firmly on the ground.

satori

The missing Jiminy Cricket

Growing up I thought that quality was a natural inherent sense in all of us. I would hear things like follow your conscience and imagine that inside all of us is some hidden wisdom that will tell us what is good and bad.

As an adult I tell myself that I don’t believe this anymore, but it’s still a deeply ingrained habit of mine to assume that there will be something that stops me from being too bad. Quality, I’ve learned, is not some sixth sense inherent within all of us. Sure our bodies give us some senses of what is harming us in our immediate physicality. But the cells in our body and the dendrites in our brains don’t have any inherent ability to predict what’s good for us in the future. Or what psychological harm there may be in the long term, or hidden physical harms.

Now the terms “follow your conscience” has taken on a different meaning for me. It’s not the conscience of the little voice I expect to be there to guide me whenever I’m in a confuddle. I’m now trying to find the conscious in me. The awareness when you open your eyes and mind, and drop the automatic filters that block our perception all the time.

It’s satori that I’m seeking. The awareness of the buddha.

 

Kung Fu training method

(disclaimer: This is purely for Toison White Crane, Lama Pai, or Hop Ga type of styles)

Structure

  1. Three points of energy-source: left-right shoulders and dantien (stomach core)
  2. Horse stance: glutes, thighs, knees, feet. The foundation holding up the 3 energy-sources.

The three energy-sources are ran by turning them. Twisting of the waist and flailing of the shoulders. These are multi-angle capable parts of the body and turning and twisting of them with power and precision is the ultimate goal.

The base that anchors the turns are the lower half of the body. This must be strengthened and diligently trained to handle the stresses caused from the upper half safely.

Dynamics

Now move all that around the floor. Learn how to move your feet around while engaging your energy-sources while still having balance and power. Try not to hurt yourself to much.